What is your story about?


Why are you writing the book you are writing?

What’s the unsolvable problem that only your story can resolve?

What is this story for?

What’s unfinished? What’s the paradox? What’s the yearning? What’s the dilemma?

What is the theme you want to explore so deeply, you have to write an entire novel to illustrate it? 

This is not a question that you can actually answer, obviously.

Of course you don’t really know what your book is about, yet. You haven’t finished it!

If you knew what your book was really about, you probably wouldn’t have to write 200 pages to illustrate it. 

This isn’t a problem. This is a feature of your work as a writer! This is what makes writing and reading books so interesting!

Still: you do want your story to have a shape and a direction. You want it to feel organized and aligned, not chaotic. You want a reader to follow your clues, to feel like your scenes are adding up to something. 

Here’s how you unify your scenes as you write your draft, while still honouring all the elements of transformation, paradox, and being human that good fiction provides: just keep asking yourself what your story is about. Check in on this every day, if you can.

Set a timer for five minutes. Write by hand in your journal to one of these prompts:

My story is about…
I want to write about…
What my character wants most and cannot ever have is…
What I really want to understand is…

As you write, remind yourself that you’re not going to come up with an answer to your question.

The art of asking it will help you orient yourself. Let the question be your compass – then write your scenes towards the answer. 

H/T Al Watt, who taught me how to do this. For more excellent prompts to help guide you as you write your novel, I recommend his book, The 90-Day Novel.


Photo credit (top): Vale Zmeykov on Unsplash.
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